UX Personas Pros and Cons: Pointless or Powerful?

Jack O'Donoghue Avatar


UX personas have become an important part of the user experience design process. They provide a way to understand users’ needs and motivations, which can help designers create products and services that better meet their needs.

But while user personas have many advantages, there are also some drawbacks to consider.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of UX personas to determine whether they are truly powerful or simply pointless.

The Dangers of Using Personas in UX Design

Personas are only as good as the research that goes into them, and how well they’re socialised and maintained.

The team that created the personas will have a very deep understanding of the ideal customer, and it’s on them to share that understanding and help stakeholders to value them as a deliverable.

After all, if no one refers to the personas or isn’t introduced to them properly, they’ll likely just ignore them and fill their knowledge gaps another way.

Personas are valuable if they are well-researched and maintained by the team that created them.

I’ve always felt that from the moment personas are created, their value gradually diminishes over time from that point onwards. This is because most of the value in personas comes from the process of creating them.

When they’re referred to later on by someone who wasn’t a part of the research process, they only get a very concise snapshot, or abstraction of the big picture.

This leaves big knowledge gaps that the person viewing them will naturally fill in with their own assumptions and biases.

For a user persona to be effective, it needs to be detailed, well articulated, shared broadly and maintained regularly.

Here are 8 Risks that come with using personas:

  1. Personas without real data become misleading fiction, it’s important to validate assumptions made in the persona creation process with real users.
  2. Personas can give the illusion of a complete understanding, but it is important to remember that they are only a fictional character – an archetype – that represents the user.
  3. They make people believe they don’t need to continue with research, but research should be ongoing to ensure the personas remain accurate.
  4. They’re relied upon for decision-making when real research is needed, leading to poor design decisions.
  5. Simplified stereotypes fail to reflect the diversity of the audience, it’s important to avoid stereotypes and focus on behaviors and motivations.
  6. They become out of date quickly and are expensive to maintain, making it important to consider the cost and value of user personas before committing to creating them.
  7. Considering how expensive they are, sometimes they just aren’t that valuable, it’s important to consider the complexity, innovative potential, and proposed ROI of the product or service before committing to creating personas.
  8. Stakeholders that value quant data might not appreciate qual personas, it’s important to communicate the value and purpose of qualitative research to all stakeholders involved in the design process.

Remember that the success of your user personas relies on how well researched they are and how well represented they are in each of your projects. They cost a lot of money to make and they need updating regularly, so if you do decide to create them, make sure you follow through and get the most out of them.

The Benefits of Using Personas in UX Design

In my experience, the process of creating personas offers the most value.

By doing the research, asking the questions and getting to know your users, you start to develop real empathy.

A good persona then becomes a useful reference throughout the rest of the process, and it helps you to share learnings with stakeholders.

Personas offer the most value when they are created through research, questioning and getting to know users.

If possible, you should invite stakeholders and team members to observe the user research sessions, or share videos after that sum up the key findings.

By hearing about the customer experience directly from the potential customer, stakeholders will buy in and become customer advocates. They can then use the personas as reminders in their work and share them with their teams.

Here are 8 benefits of using personas:

  1. Good personas help teams understand and empathize with their customers, by providing a clear picture of who they are and what they need.
  2. The process of creating personas gives you deep insight into customer’s goals, consumer behavior and motivations, allowing you to create a more tailored product.
  3. Personas are useful reminders of research findings during the rest of the design process, ensuring that you stay on track and meet the user’s needs.
  4. They’re useful for providing context in ideation and inspiring ideas, helping your team to come up with solutions that align with the user’s needs.
  5. Personas can help you to make design decisions, by providing a clear framework for evaluating different options.
  6. They’re useful when prioritizing ideas, by helping you to understand which features or functionality are most important to your target audience.
  7. Personas can help keep you focused on the key experiences, by highlighting the most important aspects of the user’s journey.
  8. They can increase the chances of designing successful products, by providing a clear understanding of the user’s needs and behaviors, which can be used to inform design decisions.

When used correctly customer personas can be a powerful tool to speed up decision making, prioritize your focus areas and give everyon on the team a greater sense of appreciation for what the customers need.

Are User Personas Necessary for Every Project?

Personas are a powerful tool in the design process, providing valuable insights into user needs and behaviors, enabling designers to make decisions that align with those needs.

However, it’s important to remember that personas are not always necessary for every project.

Personas are not necessary for every project.

Before committing to creating personas, designers should carefully consider the complexity, innovative potential, and ROI. In some cases, other methods such as user research or the “jobs-to-be-done” approach may be more appropriate and effective.

It’s crucial to remember that personas are a fictional representation of the user and should be used as a guide rather than a strict rule. Designers should be cautious not to create user personas simply for the sake of having them, and instead focus on understanding the user in a more comprehensive way.

Personas should only be created when they truly benefit the particular project and help align and communicate user needs to the team. When developing user personas, it’s essential to clearly understand the project’s goals and objectives and how personas will aid in achieving them.

Moving Past Personas: Alternative Approaches

As the design process evolves, so do our approaches to understanding our users. Even though personas have long been a valuable tool in the design process, alternative approaches can be beneficial as well.

Among these approaches is the Job To Be Done (JTBD). Instead of creating fictional representations of users, this approach focuses on understanding the motivations, needs, and problems they are trying to solve.

The Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework works very well alongside personas and can sometimes replace them entirely.

Another alternative approach is using actors rather than user personas. Actors refer to the different roles and responsibilities within an organization or system, and how they interact with the product or service being designed.

This approach provides a more holistic understanding of the user and how they fit into the bigger picture.

You can also use provisional personas, or a proto persona. In lieu of contextual user research and user interviews, these personas are based on domain knowledge and market data. Using them can help communicate assumptions about who the important users are and what they need.

However, it is important to remember that they are hypotheses that need to be validated in order to achieve their ultimate purpose. These alternative approaches provide new and unique perspectives on understanding our users and can help us move past the limitations of traditional personas.

Best Practices for Creating Personas

All criticisms aside, personas can be a valuable tool when created and used correctly.

They aren’t a silver bullet and they aren’t necessary for every type of project, but when they are needed they can really add value to your process.

Here are 7 best practices to keep in mind when creating user personas:

1. Focus on behaviors and motivations, not demographics: Personas should be based on the user behavior and what the actual user wants to accomplish, rather than their demographics like age, gender, and income.

2. Define the goals of the personas before creating them: This can help you decide firstly whether or not you need user personas, and also what details do they need to contain.

3. Create a diverse set of personas to represent different segments: Create a range of different personas that represent the diversity in your customer base. Consider accessibility personas and edge cases.

4. Make a plan for continuously updating your personas as new research comes in: User personas go out of date quickly and as soon as they do, they’re likely to lead you astray and have you make bad decisions with confidence.

5. Don’t just rely on user personas, get out there and speak to your customers: After the initial effott has gone in to creating the personas. Continue your research to keep your bond with your audience and a finger on the pulse to see if anything changes in their behavior you might need to acknowledge.

6. Clearly label and explain them as provisional: Provisional personas are based on expert domain knowledge and existing market data such as google analytics or market research, and should be clearly labeled and explained as such to avoid confusion.

7. Hire professionals to conduct the research: Hiring professionals with experience in user research and user persona creation can help ensure the process is done correctly and the personas are accurate and useful.

Key Takeaways

  • UX personas are a powerful tool in the design process, providing valuable insights into user needs and behaviors.
  • However, it’s important to consider complexity, innovative potential and ROI before committing to creating them.
  • Alternative approaches such as Job To Be Done (JTBD) or actors can provide new perspectives on understanding users.
  • A user persona may contain different information from marketing personas or a buyer persona use by the sales team, it’s important for the ux designer to define what the persona should contain before creating them.
  • A user story and customer journey map usually complements personas really well. They help stakeholders to see the user as a real person.
  • An easy way to get started creating personas is with a persona template, fill it in with everything you already know, then plan the research necessary to validate your assumptions and fill the knowledge gaps. Run a customer survey, a series of user interviews, take a look at the google analytics data, then use this information to create a valuable user persona to guide your thinking.
  • If you don’t have the budget to recruit customers to interview professionally. Use social media, email lists, and customer services to help you recruit people to speak to.
  • A user persona should be based on how users behave and what they want to accomplish rather than their demographics like age, gender etc., while also taking diversity into account when creating them.
  • They need updating regularly so if you do decide to create them make sure you follow through with maintaining them properly for maximum benefit from the effort put in initially.

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